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9 February 2015

A Conversation With Kenneth Drucker About HOK’s Tall Buildings Book

Ken Drucker, Design Principal in HOK's New York Office

Kenneth Drucker, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, is the design principal in HOK’s New York office. In this Q+A, Drucker discusses the firm’s new HOK Tall Buildings book and approach to designing high-rise, mixed-use developments.

Why did HOK focus this book on tall buildings?

We have a large portfolio of tall buildings being produced by HOK offices all over the world. In response to the urbanization and the densification of cities, more and more of our clients are looking for mixed-use towers. We wanted to share some of our recent high-rise projects.

What is HOK’s approach to designing these structures?

Our approach is to understand the program, site and aspirations of the client and balance that with the economics of the project. Our integrated solutions consider vertical transportation, wind loads and structural systems while maximizing the program for our clients.

There’s also a degree of identity making. Most of our clients are looking for iconic towers that make a statement. A lot of cities in Asia and the Middle East are looking for iconic architecture that is also contextually appropriate. The Greenland Dalian East Harbor Tower in Dalian, China, is an example of this. The building will be a beacon and a lantern when seen from the community and the water.

The gently curving, triangular form of Greenland Dalian Tower reflects the boldness and symmetry of a lighthouse, creating a beacon for Dalian to the world.

The gently curving, triangular form of Greenland Dalian Tower reflects the boldness and symmetry of a lighthouse, creating a beacon for Dalian to the world.

What are the challenges and opportunities that come with tall buildings?

These are typically mixed-use developments that combine retail, commercial, residential and hotels. The challenge is to make a very efficient building while creating an identity for each of those different uses. Another challenge is that the demands of the structural and vertical transportation systems require a lot of the space to be given up to these two primary components.

The goal is to create a vertical city that has all the attributes of living in an urban environment. We look to create open space in our buildings so we can take advantage of the views and control the wind and the sun. Each design theoretically adapts to the site based on those constraints. There’s also a desire to create a connection to the culture of the place. We do a lot of research on the identity of the locale and how we can represent that through the identity of each tall building.

Energy use is generally much higher in tall buildings. Which strategies does HOK employ to design more efficient towers?

We would argue that urban living and working is more sustainable than a rural or suburban condition. Embodied energy is very high in tall buildings. Yet if people are living and working in the same place, commuting costs are mitigated. To optimize all of the building systems, we apply a certain rigor to the elevators, structure and mechanical systems. Our facades and engineering practices are constantly looking for ways to integrate the solutions so that there’s little waste in the production and operation of a tall building.

The New Songdo City Sheraton Incheon Hotel brings South Korea’s first LEED-certified hotel to the emerging metropolis of Incheon.

The New Songdo City Sheraton Incheon Hotel brings South Korea’s first LEED-certified hotel to the emerging metropolis of Incheon.

What responsibility do the designers of tall buildings have to the surrounding community?

We have a responsibility to understand the locale, the genius of place and the climate conditions of the tower. As designers, we need to make sure there’s a response to the cultural needs of a community. If we’re designing a building in the Middle East, it should look different than a building in China.

The iconic trio of Baku Flame Towers transforms the city’s skyline and promotes its historic identity.

The iconic Baku Flame Towers transform the city’s skyline and promote its historic identity.

How has high-rise design evolved? What are the current trends?

There is a movement toward buildings that are more self-sufficient. Some tall buildings are incorporating vertical farming and green roofs. We’ve seen lots of studies on how to integrate energy production and are beginning to see more integrated photovoltaics and turbines in the facades of tall buildings. This is the future of tall buildings.

Why should clients hire HOK for tall building design?

We have all of the expertise under one roof with our architecture, facade consulting, engineering, planning, urban design and sustainability groups. We have a history that is documented throughout the HOK Tall Buildings book of doing evocative and iconic architecture while meeting the programmatic requirements of our clients.

What was concept behind the design of New Songdo City Mixed-Use Residential Block D22

We call these the “basket weave buildings.” The idea was to create three cultural elements that related to the arts district of New Songdo City. We were allowed to manipulate the exterior 1.5 meters, which is where we did the basket weave pattern.

Located on the northern edge of New Songdo City's Central Park, Block D22 forms a gateway to neighborhoods in the city's northern district.

Located on the northern edge of New Songdo City’s Central Park, the Mixed-Use Block D22 forms a gateway to neighborhoods in the city’s northern district.

With a simple, repetitive design solution, we were able to create one very clean detail that offers shading benefits and articulation within the facade. It creates a shadow on the facade, which gives the building a sense of movement as you are looking at it during the course of a day. To give it the scale of the city, tour floors are bundled together with each weave.

Which big ideas shaped the design of New Songdo City Mixed-Use Block D23

We call D23 the “dancing towers” because they appear as two forms sliding past one another. We maximized what we could do with the construction technique based on how they manufacture these buildings. We simplified the facade on the non-park side and then elaborated on the park side.

The non-uniform design of the Block D23 mixed-use towers challenges the Korean model of purely extruded, uniformly treated buildings.

The non-uniform design of the Block D23 mixed-use towers challenges the Korean model of purely extruded, uniformly treated buildings. 

All of the New Songdo City projects have green roofs on the lower retail levels and live/work units that enable residents looking down to view the green roofs, which are also accessible. Open spaces between all the towers within each block are very intimate and feel comfortable within the scale of the super blocks.

We have to deal with the scale of the city outside of the super block. Within the super block, we have a more intimate scale that relates to the residential and the retail structures around it.

In this video, Drucker discusses using biomimicry to create more sustainable, natural tall buildings.